News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
TUESDAY, MAY 9, 2006


Dissent brings balance to state Supreme Court

An Alabama Supreme Court opinion issued Friday that overturned a $13.7 million verdict in a medical malpractice case looks like another victory for business interests to scale back big jury verdicts in Alabama.

Seventeen-year-old Sidney Lanier High School of Montgomery cheerleader Brandi Timmons had elective surgery to correct an overbite. Fifteen minutes after the surgery, nurse anesthetist Lil Hayes removed the breathing tube while anesthetist William P. Ware watched.

A short time later the teenager went into cardiac arrest, suffered brain damage and died. Baptist Health paid an $800,000 settlement in the case.

The decision to overturn the $13.7 million verdict was 5-4, but doesn't mean that the other four members of the conservative court now favor big verdicts. They actually came down on the conservative side: They refused to make law.

The justices who voted to overturn the verdict "departed from established appellate procedural protocols" by relying "on a legal principle never asserted by the defendants to the trial court or to this court," Justice Bernard Harwood wrote in the opinion for the minority.

To most of us, the reason for the decision is legalese but, if Justice Harwood is correct, Justices Lyn Stuart, Patti Smith and Mike Bolin and Civil Appeals Court Judge Bill Thompson, who served as a special justice, strayed from their conservative creed to only interpret the law.

While they all ran on the catchy pledge to not make law and to only interpret existing law, knowing the difference between the two apparently isn't always easy.

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